Managing pressure in the workplace

Managing pressure and preventing stress in the workplace is important for all organisations and managers have a vital role in making this happen. Sometimes, trying to help people who are experiencing stress can seem daunting and complicated – many managers are just unsure where to start or how to help. It may be reassuring to know that, whilst there are no quick fixes or magic bullets, there are real and practical things that you can do to reduce the likelihood of stress within your team or to support someone who is already experiencing stress.

One of the most important things for effective stress management and prevention is to identify the causes of pressure contributing to the feelings of stress. Whilst there are lots of different pressures that we all face, they can all generally fall into one or more of six areas – we call these the ‘six essentials’. If the six essentials are managed effectively and aren’t out of balance, the risk of stress goes down, team performance tends to go up and individuals feel higher levels of engagement and morale.

Being aware of how the six essentials might be affecting your team, regularly discussing any concerns team members may have about them and working together to find practical solutions to address any concerns is the best way of proactively reducing the risk of stress in your workplace.

Sometimes, it might not always be possible or practical to completely eliminate the source of pressure, but you can often have a real impact by exploring whether a change in one of the other six essentials could help the situation.

Watch the following video for a brief overview of the six essential and take a closer look into each of them below.


The 'Six Essentials'...Control

‘Control’ refers to a number of factors including how much say a person has in the way they do their job or whether they feel that their opinions are valued and listened to. When a person has little ability fo influence how or when they do their work, or they make suggestions that are rarely listened to, then this can contribute to feelings of stress.

To improve the level of control that members of your team feel, consider implementing some of the below actions:

  • Give team members genuine opportunities to make suggestions about the way their job is done and let them know what you have done about their suggestions
  • Involve team members early in any decision making processes, using their knowledge and experience to get to the best outcomes
  • Listen to the opinions of different team members and use the differing views to generate positive discussion
  • Agree clear accountability for delivering projects or tasks with team members
The 'Six Essentials'...Job Security and Change

The second of the ‘six essentials’, job security and change refer to both how any individual perceives their job security and how they experience organisational change. Uncertainty, or repeated organisational change without an understanding of why change is happening, can be a strong source of stress for many people.

If job security or change are sources of stress for someone in your team, or if you know that organisational change may be happening soon, try some of the following actions:

  • Communicate as much and as frequently as you can regarding the change; it is often the uncertainty of change that creates most stress
  • Recognise that those who are employed on contracts or in part-time roles might feel less secure than those in permanent, full-time roles
  • Reinforce Network Rail’s fair culture principles
  • Promote support services to your team members (for example, Network Rail’s employee assistance programme)
The 'Six Essentials'...Resources and Communication

‘Resources and communication’ refer to the need to have the right tools, training and equipment to be able to do a job effectively, and also to feel like you are part of a team or organisation. When either of these areas is wrong, stress can occur. For example, a lack of correct or adequate tools to do the job, lack of appropriate training or feeling isolated from the organisation can all contribute to feelings of pressure and stress.

To reduce the likelihood of resources and communications leading to stress in your team, consider implementing some of the following:

  • Make sure all team members have a personal development plan that has identified their training needs
  • Discuss any equipment issues that team members may have and work to find solutions where they are possible and practical
  • Make sure that you regularly communicate with team members, such as through scheduled team meetings or 1-2-1s
  • Provide regular updates on what’s happening within the company and let team members know where they can go to find out more
The 'Six Essentials'...Work Demands

‘Work demands’ is a type of pressure that many of us automatically understand. If a person is simply given more work than they can possibly do, it’s obvious that they may begin to feel stressed. But work demands is more than just ‘having too much work’ – some people actually thrive on high work voliumes and less work might actually cause them to feel stressed, whilst other people might struggle with the same work load. There is no one answer to this, but there are practical things that can be done to find the right balance for the individual.

Work demands could relate to volume of work, commuting time, work hours, being over or under worked.

To get the right level of work demands in your team, focus on some of the below:

  • Recognise that different people thrive under different work loads and adjust team projects to reflect this
  • Work with team members to prioritise the tasks they are working on
  • Support flexible working whenever you can
  • Be aware of the impact that commuting time can have on work demands
  • Agree rules for when team members are and aren’t expected to be available for contact or returning emails / calls
The 'Six Essentials'...Work Relationships

‘Work relationships’ can refer to feeling isolated from other team members, suffering from bullying or harassment or not working collaboratively. Having positive working relationships doesn’t mean that a person has to be best mates with everyone they work with, but working in a positive and supportive environment where different opinions and experiences are encouraged and respected can have a strong impact on the pressure a person feels at work.

If you think that work relationships might be an issue in your team or workplace, consider doing some of the below

Establish close professional relationships between managers and team members, showing a genuine interest in how people are

  • Spend time reinforcing the commitment of managers to workplace wellbeing
  • Encourage open discussions about how people within the team are feeling
  • Make it clear that no forms of bullying or harrassment will be accepted
The 'Six Essentials'...Job Conditions

‘Job conditions’ refers to the environment a person is expected to work in or the satisfaction a person has with the job that they do. If a person is asked to work in an unsafe, unhealthy workplace, or if they feel that their work isn’t valued appropriately, then they can begin to feel negative pressure and the risk of stress increases. By focusing on providing a safe workplace, that encourages and enables a healthy lifestyle, and making people feel valued, then you can have a real impact on their risk of stress.

If you think that a person’s job conditions might be an issue, spend time focusing on the below actions:

  • Speak to team members about what they need to do their job well
  • Ensure your team has adequate welfare facilities
  • Help your team understand the role they play in the organisation
  • Encourage team members to lead a healthy lifestyle, such as being active or eating a healthy lunch

How can you assess the risk of stress?

The first step to reducing the risk of stress in the workplace is to identify the key pressure points for an employee, and understand why they feel pressured in that area using a stress risk assessment. A stress risk assessment can help form solutions to minimise the risk of stress, reduce the likelihood of employee absence, identify the need for occupational health or other forms of early intervention and potentially maximise their performance, moral and engagement at work. The stress risk assessment can also be used in the return to work process if an employee is returning from absence to support their recovery and avoid work related stress in the future.

A stress risk assessment is a tool specifically developed to provide line managers with a step by step guide to evaluate the following:

  • which of the six essentials of workplace stress are causing a pressure point
  • why the person feels that is a pressure
  • what can be done to alleviate pressure in that area and documenting what solutions are agreed. It’s important to note this is a negotiation between employee and line manager, and in some cases it may not be possible meet the absolute requests of the employee, but a compromise about any workplace adjustments should be reached. This process can also involve representatives from trade union or human resources
  • who will be responsible for ensuring the plan is put in place
  • how often the plan will be evaluated and who with

It’s important that any discussion is documented and regularly reviewed at agreed times so continual monitoring can identify any early issues and need for further support.

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